European tanners battling on several fronts

16 November 2009

With lower sales volumes (40-50% down), REACH, competition from lower cost countries, the global financial crisis and ever increasing environmental pressures; European tanners are fighting many battles to remain in business at the moment. This is just a summary of the present situation for the European tanning industry. Many other major business segments have of course also been hit in a similar way, for example the automotive industry. The difference is that these larger lines of business, partly due to their size and partly due to very sophisticated lobbying organisations at EU level as well as at national level, have access to subsidies and favourable loans.

The tanning industry does not play in this league. On the contrary we have not received any extra credits but have to handle decisions taken in panic by the banks resulting in decreased credit limits. Today, cash flow is the biggest problem in the short term for tanners. The industry found it difficult to manage the drop in much lower volumes in 2008, particularly as the fall was fast and very dramatic. Subsequently, decreased invoicing resulted in too much money tied up in stock.
Is there any solution for us? Yes there is, but for sure it will not come from grumbling loudly or believing in help from heaven.
At the end of 2009 we will probably have to face the fact that the number of tanneries in Europe will have decreased. The remaining tanneries will emerge from the ongoing crisis stronger with all the necessary experience for a tougher, more competitive European tanning industry.
A strong tanning industry for the long term demands however a strong European trade organisation to represent our collective interests. We have to learn from other trades and create a strong organisation working at the EU level.
Today we already have the building blocks for such an organisation. There is Cotance, which represent the national tanning associations at EU level and does a tremendous amount of work in Brussels looking after the interests of the European tanning industry, despite having very small financial resources. Furthermore Cotance plays an important role as the body for EU member states handling proposals affecting the European tanning industry.
Cotance has to be strengthened. Increased financial resources as well as greater engagement and participation on a daily basis from members is necessary for a strong Cotance. Today, too many member states and larger tanneries get a free ride from the work done by employees at Cotance as well as from a few associations in the member states.
During the next twelve months the tanning associations in each member state have to act together in order to make Cotance strong enough to meet future demands. We have to increase member engagement for the European tanning industry and we have to secure that Cotance becomes a financially stronger organisation working for us.
United we stand, divided we fall.

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